It became clear to me years ago that using the headphones supplied by the manufacturer to listen to a portable audio player is a lot like trying to eat watermelon through a straw—some delicious juice may get through, but you're certainly not making the most of the experience. Hence my ongoing quest for the ultimate on-the-go sonic solution, a journey of discovery that recently brought me to the extraordinary Shure E500 PTH sound-isolating earphones, which combine two ingenious innovations to create one irresistible product.
Shure has always excelled at squeezing out high-performance audio from tiny components, but the E500s take this mastery of miniaturization to new extremes by incorporating three separate audio drivers in each minuscule earbud. With one tweeter and two woofers in each ear, you get music reproduction with amazing range and precision. While vocals benefit most—the buds ably re-create every breathy nuance in my favorite Diana Krall torch songs—plucked guitar strings and brushed cymbals also come through with striking delicacy and clarity.
Achieving a great fit with earbuds is tremendously important, both to block out external noise and to ensure comfort during long listening sessions. Toward that end, Shure provides a generous "fit kit" with eight different interchangeable options, including soft rounded domes in three sizes, squishy foam sleeves and what looks like a plastic porcupine quill. (That last one must be comfy cozy for someone, but it just scares me.)
Shure's second major innovation with the E500PTH comes when the earbuds are snugly in place and you need to interrupt the music to give the barista your morning brew order, hear the pilot's comforting spiel or maybe listen to your wife. Instead of abruptly plucking the buds from your ears, just push a button on the included Push to Hear (PTH) module to activate a small microphone that pumps the sounds of the outside world into your ear canals. Push again and the music floods back in. It's an elegant solution to a common problem and, while I'm hoping the PTH module gets a lot smaller in a follow-up model, I'm already addicted to the convenience it provides. Priced at a decidedly upscale $499, the E500PTH is a high-end earphone, but you can purchase the PTH module alone, for use with any headphone or earbud you own, for just $59.